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China’s New Space Race: First Satellite Of CASC’s Hongyan LEO SATCOM Constellation To Launch By End Of 2018

A graphic depicting Project Hongyan and its applications in Chinese. Image courtesy of China Great Wall Industry Corporation.

The first of 320 satellites in the Chinese Hongyan low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites communications mega-constellation is expected to be launched by the end of 2018 on board a Long March-2D satellite launch vehicle, according to reporting by Andrew Jones in the GBTimes.

The Hongyan constellation is being developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), and news of the imminent first satellite launch was announced by CASC executives at the recently held Zhuhai Airshow.

According to Jones, the first Hongyan satellite will be placed in LEO at an altitude of 1,100 kilometres altitude and will test the projects L- and Ka-band communications capabilities.

The first satellite, called Hongyan-1, is to be one of nine satellites placed in orbit by 2020 as part of a pilot demonstration for the Hongyan system. Hongyan translates from Mandarin into English as ‘wild goose’, a name that probably comes from the fact that geese were used to deliver messages in ancient China.

The initial 60 satellites making up the first phase of deployment of the Hongyan mega-constellation are supposed to be in orbit and in operation by around 2023. The entire 320 satellite system will provide global coverage and is expected to be completed by 2025.

The Hongyan mega-constellation will provide two-way communications at all times in any terrain and shall provide a range of services such as ground data collection and exchange, ship identification and tracking, mobile broadcasting, and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) signal enhancement.

“This is to provide a global solution for our future satellite broadband access and services such as the Internet of Things with our current telecommunication technology,” said Shi Pingyan, senior vice president of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), a CASC organisation, in a Chinese television interview at the Zhuhai Airshow.

A factory capable of assembling 130 Hongyan satellites every year has been constructed in Tianjin, a port city close to Beijing. The Hongyan mega-constellation will reportedly be capable of providing mobile connectivity to 2 million users, satellite broadband to 200,000 users, and Internet of Things (IoT) coverage to 10 million users within China and in countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Hongyan mega-constellation will be operated by the Aerospace Dongfanghong Satellite Company, a CAST subsidiary company that specialises in small satellites.

The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), another Chinese state-owned company like CASC, has plans to develop a narrowband commercial communications constellation in LEO comprising 156 satellites, and is called Xingyun.

Both Hongyan and Xingyun are not affected by international mega-constellation plans such as those proposed by companies like OneWeb and SpaceX. Under Chinese law no foreign company can provide communications services in China.

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